I came to Philadelphia around the age of six from Puerto Rico. At that time my first language was Spanish. So when I walked into kindergarten for the first time the voices around me sounded like “jibber jabber”. “Que es tu nombre?” my American teacher would lean down to ask me very slowly as if I were a child of special needs. She didn`t know much Spanish, but I would try to speak to her as much as I could. She was my only friend. This was because she was the only person I could communicate with all day. I found myself saying little words like “baño” when I would have to use the bathroom. Every time I would say that out loud, the other students would turn around, look at me, and laugh. This was not really a bother to me, until I became more accustomed to standard english. Then I understood why my classmates were laughing at me.
My experience resembled the story told in “Hunger of memories” by Richard Rodriguez. In this short story Mr. Rodriguez speaks about his family living in the United States. Rodriguez is hispanic, and he had to get used to being looked at funny because he did not know much English. Something that really struck me was when he spoke of his first day of kindergarten. “When I first entered a classroom, I was able to understand fifty stray English words” Rodriguez said. It immediately sent me back to my first day of kindergarten. At that point I felt a very strong connection with the author. Being pointed out for not being American was difficult to deal with.
In middle school, it just got worse for me. I already knew English, but since the teacher`s were well aware that I came from Puerto Rico, they though I needed more assistance than the other students. “Edgar, Christian, Cynthia, and Karoline” the esol teacher called out to the students at the doorway of the classroom for our study session. Esol was a program that helped students from other countries adjust to the American language and the different type of education that we were learning. Once a week she would come to get us and every time I would try to hide from her. The embarrassment never got old, at times I would sit in the back to see if she would not notice me, or would go out to the bathroom around the time I knew she would come. “She`s back there” Mr. Collins would reply to Miss Nelson or “She`ll be here in a minute”. When I would attempt to skip class. In the study sessions we would practice the meanings of words. For instance, I remember learning “perro is dog” and “libro is book”, things that I already knew. Other students thought we were pretty lucky to miss out on class for an hour or two, but to me it was just a waste of time. “I already know English Miss Nelson” I would try to explain to her as we walked down the hallway to the library. She would respond in Spanish in a loud tone and that would embarrass me even more. “Tienes que practicar todos los dias” she would say in a sarcastic voice. Telling me that I needed to still practice pronunciations.
In high school,I was more ashamed than embarrassed. However, my moment of realization came in when I started to learn information on NHI. “The following students head to the college office for the National Hispanic Institute” said Mr. Lehman through the loud speaker. “Do I have to go?” I asked Mr. Best my Bio Chemistry teacher, blushing because I had been singled out with these group of students. After he persuaded to me that it was important, I went straight to the college office. When I arrived, we had a meeting on the accomplishments this program created for hispanic students, and all the opportunities available to us. It even offered many scholarships to the students that completed this program.
After learning about The National Hispanic Institute, it hit me that Spanish was once my first language and technically still is my first language. I`d been so caught up in my new life style that I had forgotten where I came from. Not only did it make me who I am but it also made my family who they are. Our traditions, beliefs, the food we eat, and the music we listen to all originated in Puerto Rico. Ever since I came to Philadelphia, I become so accustomed to the American culture that I became embarrassed of my own. However, as time goes by I have come to the realization that just because your culture isn`t the same as where you live in currently is not a bad thing. In fact, you stand out from the rest for doing things that are a little different. I`ve gone from embarrassed, to ashamed, and then taking these feelings and becoming proud of where I came from.